“I remember when the Nazis forced 16 to 22-year-old males to dig mass graves for themselves. The young men were rounded up and shot, and my cousin was one of them,” said Zdenka Levy. “I lost 11 members of my family during the Holocaust. My father saw some of my uncles die from starvation while he was in a concentration camp. I was 15 at the time, and I remember when I was more mature, I wondered, ‘Why was I so lucky to survive the horrors of this period?’ I just take it as my personal fortune and fate. I believe it is supremely important to share my story.”
Levy recalls when her father was taken to a concentration camp where he stayed for several months and where thousands died. He returned home after the workers at a metal furniture factory, which he managed and once owned before the Nazis took it over, petitioned for his release. He had lost 80 pounds and three fingers on one hand were black from frostbite. Levy and her family were able to escape to Italy, but eventually, they were taken on a train to a concentration camp. They spent nearly two years there before being liberated by American and British forces. The family was part of a group of 1,000 refugees allowed to come to the United States. However, the refugees had to stay in an old Army fort in the barracks surrounded by barbed wire in upstate New York. After nearly two years, the refugees were allowed to become United States citizens.
“I cannot forget what happened. I can never forgive,” said Al Kuhn. “I was 5 ½ at the time. I remember hearing a knock at the door late at night and our whole family was arrested. My father was put in a concentration camp where he stayed for six months and somehow was released. I recall the time when the Germans ransacked the temple next door to our house and set all of the pillows on fire from inside of the pews. We saw feathers floating in the air for days. Every time I see a feather, I am reminded of that incident.”
After Kuhn’s father was released from the concentration camp, he heard of a European entrepreneur who needed dairy farmers to work in Bolivia. Kuhn’s father volunteered for the job and the whole family lived in the jungle in Bolivia with almost no food or running water, no communication or school. Eventually, Kuhn’s mother moved the kids to the city and his father worked as a sales representative for the farm. They lived in Bolivia for 10 years, lost practically everything they owned previously in Germany and moved to the United States after the war.
“There was no anti-Semitism in Bolivia. That country saved our lives by letting us come there to flee the Nazis,” said Kuhn. “That country deserves our eternal gratitude. Without Bolivia, we would not be here today.”
Kuhn’s wife Liliane is also a Holocaust survivor. Rather than Germany, she is from France. Liliane was an infant when the Germans invaded Paris. Her family’s neighbors arranged for Liliane to be taken to a farm in the middle of the country while her father joined the French Legion and her mother lived in France under a false name. The area was not safe for Jewish people and especially not safe for Jewish children. Liliane lived with a Christian family on their farm, went with them to church and was treated as their own child for four years. Her parents sacrificed watching their daughter grow up to save her life.
“Liliane and her parents survived due to the good heartedness of people who were not Jewish who helped as much as they could and had nothing to gain, said Kuhn. “After the war, Liliane’s parents went to the farm and picked her up. That family on the farm always kept a picture of Liliane on their mantle for many years, long after the war. They eventually told their grandkids that Liliane was the girl they kept during the war.”
In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, survivors at Moldaw Residences lit six candles to represent the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Some of the ten survivors who live at Moldaw Residences also told their stories.
“We have many Holocaust survivors living at Moldaw Residences,” said Gerry Vadnais, executive director of Moldaw Residences. “It is important for us as a community to recognize their stories while remembering the millions of people who lost their lives during the Holocaust.”